An explosion in black market sales means that illicit cigarettes account for nearly one in three smoked in Leeds.
A survey has found the proportion of cigarettes that are bootlegged, smuggled or counterfeit has rocketed from 18.7 per cent at the end of 2011 to 31.3 per cent by the end of last year.
Leeds shopkeeper Ali Seedat, who runs Fountain Street News in Morley, said it was difficult for legitimate traders to compete.
“We have peaks and troughs in sales and you can always tell when cheap tobacco is on the market because our sales will drop,” he said.
“With the constant rises in taxes, smokers are always looking for other avenues to get their cigarettes, whether that’s pubs, market traders or ‘tab houses’ on council estates.”
The figures were released following a survey by MSIntelligence, which looked at 12,000 packs collected from streets and bins in 105 cities.
The results show that the prevalence of untaxed illicit cigarettes in Leeds is higher than both the national average of 26.4 per cent and the Yorkshire average of 25 per cent. The figures do not include hand-rolled tobacco, of which HM Revenue and Customs estimates as much as half comes from the black market.
Former detective Will O’Reilly, who has been conducting research into the illicit cigarette trade for tobacco company Philip Morris International, said: “Just as armed robberies of the 70s and 80s made way for the drugs trade and large scale fraud in the 90s, so a new crime of choice has emerged, which carries even less risk and even greater profits.
“The trade in illicit tobacco has become the primary source of revenue for some criminal gangs and terrorist groups and it has already reached epidemic proportions.”